Human consciousness doesn’t seem to bother, at first, with its own origins. As toddlers, and then children, developing minds don’t marvel at their newness. They don’t look back with astonishment at how recently they were nothing but an inchoate fog of sensations. Instead they become gradually aware of themselves as they think about the world around them.
Yet, from this starting assumption, we become self-aware. Then we are driven by the desire to firm up the governing identity, the need for eudemonia: self-fulfilment, self-development.
Children, as they embark on this quest, are still relatively new to existence, and are discovering phenomena that are older than they are. This gives them the impression that the objective world is age-old and has a reliable permanence: popular music has always sounded like this; fashion has always looked like this. Our parents have always been this age; schools have always taught using these methods, pushed these agendas. (A student asked me, during the first lockdown, “did you have many lockdowns when you were young?” I said, “It’s totally new to me, too, kid.” He found this troubling: he wanted me to be experienced and thus to know what to do.)
As children grow and become teenagers, then young adults, they still believe they are discovering eternal truths about the world. And, more importantly, about themselves. They feel they are uncovering their true, unchanging selves.
In fact, brains are plastic and protean. They grow rapidly; thousands of neural pathways are being formed and reinforced all the time. So, everyone creates their own identity in the act of discovering it. They decide on which narratives of self they will live by. And this goes for the “cis- gendered” and the gender dysphoric.
No one naturally embodies gender stereotypes. All consciously adopt them, so no one feels completely at ease, although some feel more ill-at-ease than others.
Traditional gender constructs and aspirations can be terribly restrictive. Recognising this, we ought to be generally more flexible and accepting of each other with all our oddities intact. Instead, the belief in the immutable self encourages us to create a multiplicity of separate, rigid categories of gender, to cover all gradations and nuances of attitude, and preferences. If identity is predetermined and unchanging, we think, then we all must be fixed in our separate types. So, we define ourselves in their terms, and use the internet to collect a like-minded “community.” Once again, the internet fuels division not the promised “connectivity.”
And then, as we age, our brains begin to set like concrete. Thoughts become assumptions. Behaviours become habits. We’re stuck with whatever ham-fisted, naïve caricature we’ve created.